As a Stake President I appreciate the hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls I receive each week to express appreciation for my blog. I apologize for not being able to respond to each and every one of them. Today I received the following email from 15 year old Josée who is from Ontario County Canada and I thought I would respond.
Dear President Paternoster,
While visiting Canada’s Wonderland last week I noticed that dinosaurs lived and died millions of years ago (I have included 2 photos). My seminary teacher who was with us said that this was not possible as that would mean that the atonement of Jesus Christ would have been completely unnecessary. I asked my Dad what was meant by this comment but he said I should ask you as you tend to explain things better.
If it’s not too much trouble could you elaborate?
Josée age 15
Thank you for your letter. Please thank your father and let him know that I am both humbled and honoured at the confidence he has placed in me. This is a fascinating topic and as someone who is well versed in paleontology and the restored gospel I am well positioned to provide a response.
Before responding to your question I wish to warn you that hundreds of different theories exist in the world and in your life you will meet many (including Church members) who, while meaning well, will unfortunately fall into the trap of mingling the truth of the scriptures with the philosophies of men. They do this to make the gospel 'seem' more logical. This you must not do.
In order to avoid confusion whenever a question such as this comes up I encourage members to prayerfully look to the scriptures and the official website of the Church (lds.org) for answers. I promise you Josée that the answers are there for those who seek them.
While the scriptures don’t specifically mention dinosaurs let us do some research on the origin of death. From the Church website at this link http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/death?lang=eng&letter=d we learn that “Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit. The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness.” Now the absolutely essential thing to note Josée is that “Both of these deaths were introduced into the world by the fall of Adam.”
To further clarify this we read from the same link that “Latter-day revelation (and let’s keep in mind that this is actual revelation – meaning God has revealed this to his prophets, so it’s not just an opinion) teaches that there was no death on this earth for any forms of life before the fall of Adam. Indeed, death entered the world as a direct result of the fall.” This is backed up by holy scripture (2 Ne. 2:22; Moses 6:48).
The current institute manual that is used to teach 18-30 year olds confirms this teaching where it states that “There was no death in the earth before the fall of Adam ...The gospel teaches us that if Adam and Eve had not partaken of that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would have remained in the Garden of Eden in that same condition prevailing before the fall. . . . http://institute.lds.org/manuals/doctrines-of-the-gospel-student-manual/doc-gosp-21-30-30.asp
Based on this solid evidence we know of a surety that no death occurred on the earth before the fall. The next question we need to answer then is when did this fall occur? Again let’s prayerfully go to the official Church site to seek answers to our questions. At http://seminary.lds.org/courses/ot/ we can download the timeline of the people and events from the Old Testament pictured below. While the dates are approximate we can see from this timeline that the fall took place at around the year 4030 B.C. (Adam died approximately in the year 3100 at the age of 930).
So here we have a dilemma. On one hand we have the restored gospel saying that no death occurred for any forms of life before the fall of Adam (some 6,000 years ago) and on the other hand we have the scientists claiming that dinosaurs were living and dying 231 million of years ago (as per the photo you provided)! Whom should we believe? Should we accept the Holy Scriptures and the interpretation given by modern day prophets on our official website or should we change our interpretation in an attempt to follow the ever changing theories of scientists?
Josée you asked what your seminary teacher meant when he said that dinosaurs could not have lived and died millions of years ago “as that would mean that the atonement of Jesus Christ would have been completely unnecessary”. This question has been answered and is available on the Brigham Young University website in a talk that they still feature given by Bruce R. Mckonkie who was a prophet, seer and revelator. He said “My reasoning causes me to conclude that if death has always prevailed in the world, then there was no fall of Adam that brought death to all forms of life; that if Adam did not fall, there is no need for an atonement; that if there was no atonement, there is no salvation, no resurrection, and no eternal life; and that if there was no atonement, there is nothing in all of the glorious promises that the Lord has given us.”Basically what the Apostle is saying here is if dinosaurs died millions of years ago (before the fall) then there was no fall (because the purpose of the fall was to introduce death into the world) and if there was no fall then there was no atonement to counter the effects of the fall. And if that were the case then this whole gospel of Jesus Christ would be untrue. This would mean that Church leaders such as myself and President Monson would be, much like the billions of followers of other religions in the world, wasting our lives away in a false religion in a vain and foolish attempt at gaining an eternal award which doesn't exist. And of course Josée, this cannot be.
My personal opinion, which is the more likely explanation, is that some of the Lord's creations (such as the Tyrannosauras Rex) due to their size and displeasing demeanour were turned away by the prophet Noah at the ark and shortly thereafter became extinct.